I was never good at meditating. I have what people in yoga circles call the “monkey mind,” always jumping from thought to thought, and I had erroneously believed that meditation (or the weak attempt of it) only made my anxiety worse because of my inability to shut my mind up. But after seeing my friend return from a 10-Day Vipassana Retreat feeling like a whole new person, I gave it a second thought. We both suffer from anxiety and if it helped him, maybe it could help me too. So I set out on the retreat – reserving my slot early, forewarning my loved ones, and rearranging my meetings – to proceed without outside concerns to distract me. The 10-Day Vipassana Retreat focuses on the purest type of meditation – one free from philosophy or religion, which can benefit any person of any background. The retreats are organized and run by volunteers, and the retreat is donation-based.
Before you begin on the meditation journey, they keep your cellphones, books, and writing paraphernalia. They also ask that you do not exercise, even do yoga. Participants are served vegetarian food throughout, and for dinner only a piece of fruit with tea. But the hardest part is that the meditation retreat is also a silent retreat. Not just meaning no talking to the other participants, but also no communication of any kind. Having to avoid eye contact when you’re surrounded by strangers is difficult, but important in maintaining a sense of solitude that was relevant to the course.
After the first two days, I was optimistic and excited. The monkey mind continued to bother me but I persevered, and managed to learn how to shut it out in short time intervals, increasing in length as I progressed through the course. Naturally, it would return at times, but I learned how to accept it then let it go, and not let the return of my head-noise to discourage me.
By the third day, my emotions took a 180 degree turn. I found myself crying in bed from missing my family, my dogs, my partner, and my friends. Thankfully, that was the only time that I cried during the retreat but I came to realize crying is common as the whole experience can be quite overwhelming. The fourth, fifth and sixth days passed without incident, although I found myself feeling hungry for the most part. I wasn’t used to fasting in the evenings, likely as were the other participants, and mealtimes would sometimes feel like a competition at the buffet table that I did not want to be part of. On the seventh day, I mouthed words to my sole toilet roll, asking it to kindly last for the rest of the retreat. It was a polite one-way conversation that marked how tired I was of the process. All the evenings that I was there, I stayed up late, tossing and turning in bed, finding the silence oppressive and even scary. I’d pass out from sheer exhaustion and often miss the morning meditation.
The eighth day was when I experienced by greatest triumph – sitting still for a full hour. I’d be lucky to get through even 10 minutes of no movement. If it wasn’t an itch that I urgently needed to scratch, it was the pain on my back or behind my knees. But on that eighth day, I understood what it was about meditation that changed people’s lives. It teaches you to master both your mind and body, to rise above feelings of desire, and simply be present. Though I didn’t achieve anything as big on the days that followed, I felt that I had done what I came there to accomplish… While still reminding myself that it wasn’t about a race and a finish line, but about a constant state of being.
I went on this retreat 6 months ago, and I’ll admit it – I still suck at meditating. And I’m always full of excuses. There isn’t enough time, it’s too hot, the construction going on outside is distracting – I’ve used them all, but the one that gets me every time is my chronic back pain. As a freelance writer, I spend most of my time crouched over a laptop, and suffer from the back pain that anyone who stares at a screen all day (so, everyone?) can relate to.
I know. It’s not meant to be easy, and the physical struggle of it challenges you to put mind over matter. But being in the city makes the silencing part incredibly more difficult than in the quiet and remote retreat location in Cavite. So I tried something to make it a little easier – sort of like training wheels for the body to get used to the meditation position.
The Dharma Buddy is a cushioned body wrap designed to provide you with back support so that you can sit upright, whether on a chair or in a cross-legged position, for longer. It comes with very simple, straightforward instructions on how to wrap it, and it only took me 2 minutes to figure it out. They also have an instructional video if you find yourself confused.
I found that with the Dharma Buddy, my back pain excuses just melted away and I got through my daily 10-minute meditation with no problem. My concern before trying it was that it might feel hot and uncomfortable to use (and this weather is already driving me crazy), but the fabric is very light so it didn’t bother me. If anything, the way it wraps around the legs feels comforting. The repetitive process of setting it up before meditation, and rolling it up afterwards also assists in extending the practice of mindfulness.
The Dharma Buddy is now available at The Flow Shop.
Writer and wellness enthusiast Bea Osmeña is a compulsive eater and tree-humper. She navigates a world structured on a culture of convenience by questioning everything and trying not to annoy everyone in the process.